Olympic qualifiers: This time for Africa

Nishad Vellur/ Zeenews.com

New Delhi: The Indian women hockey team went down to a compact South Africa 1-3 in the final to miss out on the Olympic spot in the FIH Olympic qualifiers on Saturday.
Whereas, this was South Africa’s fourth Olympic entry.

India started with a lot at stake and took a while to settle down. Sadly, by then they had already conceded one. Indians gifted the South Africans with an early breakthrough in the 4th minute. The usually mercurial Shelley Russell didn’t pose any serious threat to the Indian defense until she dispossessed Ritu Rani inside the circle. Shelley then beat Indian keeper Yogita Bali to open the account.

After spilling a couple of short corners, Pietie Coetzee made use of the one in the 30th minute to increase the lead before the first half hooter. For Indians, they would regret missing a scoring chance in the second minute, which would have gone in favour of the hosts psychologically considering the fact that the 12th ranked Africans were not in their usual best.

Indians missed two scoring chances in the 42 nd and 43rd minute as Anuradha Devi fumbled before the African goalkeeper Mariette Rix. It proved costly for the Indians. Later, record scorer Coetzee’s shot was deflected by Marsha Marescia in the 53rd minute that ensured the Africans an easy passage to London. But the spirited Indians pressed for a breakthrough and did succeed to convert one short corner in the 57th minute through Jaspreet Kaur. It though was only a consolation goal for the hosts, who trudged off the field crestfallen.

India started the tournament on a typically low note, so was the game against an experienced South African side. In the pool match, Indians couldn’t overcome the South African side as they bowed down before their superior attacking and physical dominance. On Saturday, they were outpaced. Every move from the Indian side was loudly cheered by a healthy crowd who were here to witness the women’s hockey team, who has long lived in the shadow of their male compatriots, realize their Olympic dream. But they were let down by the hosts.

Going by world rankings, India were the second best in the tournament after 13th ranked South Africa. Fittingly, they finished second in the tournament, which meant the 32-year long wait would continue.

While Ritu Rani played her villainous role in South Africa’s first goal, Rani Rampal was invisible throughout. Poor penalty conversion rate didn’t help the Indian cause either. Compared to their Indian counterparts, South Africans boasted of highly experienced players with as many as eleven players with 100-plus matches under their belt.

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